Frequently absent juror says 'thank you' for sentence in Tarrant County jail

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by MATT GOODMAN, JIM DOUGLAS and MONIKA DIAZ

WFAA

Posted on November 2, 2012 at 7:40 AM

FORT WORTH – For all who’ve wondered how many times you can skip jury duty before you’re punished, just ask Jose Bocanegra from Mansfield.

He’ll likely tell you he should’ve stopped with his excuses and delays.

"I ended up dealing with the consequences," Bocanegra said. "It's not worth it."

Tarrant County Judge Wayne Salvant found the 20-year-old in contempt of court and sentenced him to five days in jail –– equal to the number of times he skipped out on jury duty. Bocanegra told us officials picked him up on Tuesday.  He was released Thursday afternoon.

"It was my first time [to have jury duty] and it was just hard,"  he said from his home in Mansfield. "I didn't want to do it. It's all the way in Fort Worth and out of the way."

For his first disappearing act, Bocanegra tried to wiggle out of a summons in April by claiming he was a felon. Except he wasn’t, and the court found out.

“By the time that was over and done with, he had missed his actual date,” said Paula Morales, the overseer of jury services in Tarrant County. “So we reset him until June.”

Next, he used the county’s online system to qualify himself as primary caretaker of an invalid.

“We couldn’t substantiate that because he didn’t list a person,” Morales said.

After that, Bocanegra just stopped showing up. He missed a date in August and called the next day to say he missed his date. Morales said they worked with him again to reset for a date.

On Oct. 21, he strolled into Criminal District court –– but there was a line. So he left.

“We made the assignment within two hours of him checking in, but he was gone," the bailiff said.

Upon being notified that one of his jurors wasn’t in the courthouse, Judge Salvant immediately issued a warrant for his arrest. It took police eight days to find him. When he told the judge his sob story, it didn’t go over too well.

“The judge brought this guy in and he was just like, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to wait,’ so the judge said, ‘I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,’” Morales recounted.

This isn’t the first time an absentee juror has been punished. But Morales said it’s never happened “to this extent.”

“You can tell by his history that we work with people to get their service done,” Morales said.

According to Morales, punishment “has happened by different judges in the past; it just depends on the judge.” She added Tarrant County's juror response rate is better than average.

"We kept trying to help him out, [and] help him out, but then, he just finally kind of thumbed his nose at the judge and said, 'I'm not going to stay,'" Morales said.

Morales said she hopes this punishment will send a message to those thinking of sneaking out on their civic duty. One of the primary duties of her office, she said, is working with residents to find a time for jury duty that fits into their schedule.

“However, I am inundated with phone calls in my office for a lot of people trying to find a reason not to serve,” she said. “My message would be that it would never have to come with this … this is completely avoidable.”

Bocanegra told News 8 he learned his lesson.

"I'm not mad at [the judge] or anything," he said. "I would say thank you for getting me straightened out so that next time I will be prepared. I know what's like to mess up."

Paula Morales said this will not disqualify Bocanegra from having to show up next time he's summoned for jury duty.  Bocanegra said, if he's called again, he's showing up.

E-mail mdiaz@wfaa.com

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